Interview by Mark Coster

Cristom Winemaker Steve Doerner looking wistfully at his grapes

  • The 2008 Sommers Reserve Pinot Noir has been given rave reviews, what makes it so special? 

Primarily the vintage. It was a bit like the Goldilocks story – not too this or not too that but just right. Also the wine seems to be very well balanced so all of it’s components can be enjoyed simultaneously.


  • Why is Pinot Noir a good grape to grow in Willamette Valley? 

Pinot Noir likes a cooler climate. The Pacific Ocean just to our west provides very consistent and relatively cooler air during the growing season. That combined with well drained soils found on the hillsides, where most all of the grapes are grown, turns out to be perfect for Pinot Noir.


  • What advantages come from Wild yeasts and fermenting with whole clusters? 

Each has a different role. The “native” yeast (wild sounds sort of barbarian) tend to be multi-cultural. In other words, it is not just one strain, but many, each contributing something different to the wine. Hence I believe a native fermentation adds complexity to a wine. The whole clusters contribute in at least two ways. First of all, it is the best way to deliver intact fruit into a fermenter. Since yeast are exterior to the intact berries, fermentation won’t begin on any individual berry until it is broken open.  This leads to a slightly slower and cooler fermentation. The second contribution the whole clusters make is the stems that come with them. The stems add some texture and often spicy aromatics.


  • I hear you like music, what do you listen to when you’re making wine? 

Well, my favorite musician is a Canadian named Neil Young. You may have heard of him. In all honesty though, we mostly listen to what our multi- national interns of various musical tastes want to hear. That way it keeps them happier while exposing me to some great music that I may not have known.

  • Who would be your ideal dinner party guests and what wines would you serve them?

I don’t want to sound obsessed but I certainly wouldn’t mind entertaining Neil. If we’re allowed impossibilities (as if Neil wouldn’t already be in that category), I would love to dine with Thomas Jefferson. I would serve either one of them a mid-80’s Clos de la Roche from Dujac. For Jefferson because I’m sure he would appreciate it, and for Young to convert him to Pinot Noir if he didn’t already love it.


  • If you weren’t making wine, what would you be doing? 

For a living I might try engineering or architecture. If I were just retired, a lot more of what I already feel lucky enough to do. Sail, fish, travel, ski, dine out, etc. etc.


Available at Vintages  – Cristom Vineyards Sommers Reserve Pinot Noir 2008  LCBO +942490